Exciting moments are truly spectacular, even when they don’t turn out exactly as you expect. The World Cup is the one place we can always turn when we’re expecting something unexpected and exciting. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of moments which top the list of moments people remember not just for their triumph, the daring, and how close they came to defeat, but also their amusement.
# 5: Toni Schumacher TKOs Patrick Battiston (Spain, 1982)
This particular moment is remembered not because it was particularly exciting, but because it was an upset that led to one of the most exciting games of the World Cup that year. France and Germany were on the field, two old enemies nursing grudges that went back decades as they battled it out in the sports arena. The game would be remembered for years to come and is still noted in the history books as one of the finest matches ever played, because one foul act made it so.
As one could imagine a contest between old enemies, the game started out at a frantic pace from the word ‘GO!’, which is saying something, considering France and Germany were still nursing old hatreds from World War II (but who wasn’t, really). However, France, with their long reputation for losing wars, wasn’t about to let Germany seize the field, taunting them as they swaggered around the field with the ball.
Until Schumacher’s hip smashed (some say quite deliberately) into Battiston’s face, depriving him of three teeth and his consciousness for the next few minutes.
From that moment on, as far as the French were concerned, the Germans had decided to play dirty, and they came at each other like a pair of dueling wrecking-balls. Unfortunately, Schumacher was never called on his foul and ended up saving many of the French’s finest attempts to make a goal. The Germans won on penalties. Though the game was lost, the one moment of anger and revenge spurred onto a game talked about for decades, which is why this moment ranks number five on our list.
#4 Diana Ross Penalty Miss
Some wouldn’t consider this moment terribly exciting, but I always liked it. It was the opening ceremony for the USA 1994 World Cup in Chicago Soldier’s Field and Diana Ross was the lead singer. After a flamboyantly conducted ceremony wherein she sings and dances her way across the field to the penalty, she lined up a shot. But, possessing even less talent with soccer than she did with fashion (honestly, a bright-red suit?), kicked the ball so wide it missed the goal entirely, which promptly fell apart out of what one could only describe as total humiliation. The crowd booed so loud it could be heard a mile away, until they started laughing at how ridiculous the situation was. It takes fourth place for its humor; we need more of that in the world.
#3 Gordon Banks Save (Mexico, 1970)
This is more one of those moments that’s a parable rather than a triumph, that being ‘don’t celebrate before you’ve won‘. Goalkeepers get first place for iconic moments in most sports, where mere inches can mean the difference between victory and defeat, and Gordon Banks’ save at the 1970 Mexico Games is no exception. It was still early when Brazil defeated England’s defense and broke through the right in the first half, Pele had the ball and he sent it towards Banks with such speed and intensity that no human should’ve been able to stop it. But Banks, by some miracle, was able to get his hands on the ball and send it hurtling out of the goal before it struck the net. Pele later said of the moment: “From the moment I headed it, I was sure it had gone in. I had already began to jump and celebrate the goal. Then I looked back and I couldn’t believe it hadn’t gone in!” If you look at the video, the ball appears to bounce off Banks’ foot and trail/roll up the inside of his body to his hands, where he sent it over the side of the rail with nary an inch to spare. Unfortunately, he didn’t block Jairzinho’s winning shot and the game was lost, but the moment was regarded as one of the best saves in World Cup history.
#2 Diego Maradona 1986
In the move that became known as the “Hand of God”, Diego Maradona fought past the English line, some 4 players, traded briefly with another player, took the ball back and used his fist to knock the ball into the net. Understandably, it didn’t count, but the embarrassment moved him to score big and made the “Goal of the Millennium” three minutes later after once again fighting his way through a line of English defenders, this time five of them, to score a perfect goal and put his team up 2-0. He was named Player of the Tournament after Argentina went on to win Cup, beating Germany 3-2 in the final.
#1 Geoff Hurst 1966
Ever have one of those moments where you’re not sure whether you’ve won or lost? Well, Geoff Hurst had one of those moments when his scored a hat-trick goal just over the line, awarded after bouncing off the crossbar, in extra time, giving England the lead and winning them their first and only World Cup. For those few seconds it took to decide the fate of the shot, it was pure tension in the stands, until the ref announced Geoff’s goal had made it over the line. The play caused a score of debates that continue to this day, as 400 million people at home and in the stands couldn’t figure out if the ball had actually crossed the line or not.